Pet Peeve Officially Identified as Rude

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

The article is poorly titled -- "People With 'Poor Speech Etiquette' Always Use These 7 'Rude' Phrases, Says Public Speaking Expert" (always? really?) -- but it has merit.

The piece is a list of what I long ago mentally filed as verbal tics. These are phrases and forms of expression (including intonations like fry register and verbal question marks) that somehow become popular and that drive me crazy, especially when I have to deal with people who are prone to them.

In any event, the popular press occasionally notices these and ticks them off, with the article under discussion being the latest I've encountered.

First on the list is something that seems to be on the decline already, but I'd love to see disappear altogether:

Image by Jon Tyson, via Unsplash, license.
1. "Do you want to ...?"

This phrase is great when you're offering someone a choice ("Do you want to go to lunch with me?"). But as a way of delivering orders ("Do you want to take out the trash?"), its indirect fake-politeness comes across as belittling.

What to say instead: State your request directly. It's courteous to broach a request by asking, "Will you do me a favor?" After all, people generally like to pitch in. But they don't like to feel manipulated. [bold in original]
Every time someone does this, I have to fight the temptation to make a witty or sarcastic reply: And I have yielded on several occasions when I thought it might help the other person become aware of how badly this lands when they do it.

I am glad to see articles like this appear from time to time: Popular culture has a way of normalizing things like this that many people are susceptible to (or simply don't notice since "everyone's doing it") and then adopt as habits, causing them to stick out like sore thumbs once the fad has died down.

But this habit? Yes. It comes across as very rude, and I think it would be a kindness to tip off anyone still doing it.

-- CAV

Food Label Censorship

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

John Stossel reports that an entrepreneur is being prevented from informing potential customers that he is offering a dietary solution for "FODMAP" intolerance. (FODMAPs -- fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols -- are a class of sugars and sugar alcohols that can cause intestinal distress in susceptible people.)

Hard-to-find rules by the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture are keeping Ketan Vakil from employing the simple expedient of labeling his wares Low-FODMAP:

Sorbitol, a FODMAP. (Image by Kemikungen, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.)
"Everyone agrees that Ketan is telling the truth," [Justin] Pearson[, senior attorney at public interest law firm the Institute for Justice] points out. "The government just bans it because it's not on the outdated, pre-approved list."

Some of the approved terms don't seem very scientific, or even specific. Ambiguous labels like "home style" and "deli fresh" are approved. But "Low-FODMAP," a more useful term, isn't allowed.

The "approved" list isn't even easy to find. It's scattered throughout several government websites. It took [Stossel TV fellow Trevor] Kraus hours just to compile a partial list of what's approved.

"How do you get on that list?" Kraus asks Pearson.

"With a giant pile of money," Pearson replies...
These are, of course, the same people who are happy to permit a pseudoscientific, scare-mongering term like "non-GMO" to appear on food labels everywhere, putting to the lie their alleged mission of protecting consumers from being misled.

I am glad to see the Institute for Justice on this case, and hope that the lawsuit at least brings up the issue of freedom of speech, along with the freedom of individuals to ingest whatever they want, both of which are routinely violated by the FDA, and apparently also the Department of Agriculture.

(Companies should be free to label their wares however they wish, so long as such labeling isn't fraudulent, which the court system already exists to adjudicate.)

I recently noted the following from a great broadside against the FDA:
[T]he FDA is wrong to withhold drugs from the market and wrong to put the government's imprimatur on them."
It is likewise wrong to do the same thing regarding food labels: As we can easily see here, anti-GMO hysteria has the government's blessing, while people with a kind of sugar intolerance are being kept in the dark about a way they can attempt to deal with their problem. And that's just the tip of the iceberg when the government wrongly gets into the business of violating freedom of speech.

-- CAV

How Ideas Propagate

Monday, November 27, 2023

Years ago, possibly through Alex Epstein's How to Talk to Anyone About Energy course or Don Watkins's Persuasion Mastery course, I recall one of the later steps of the process of persuasion being to point the other person to a book which will present whatever argument or viewpoint you are promoting in a comprehensive way.

This makes perfect sense and mirrors my own experience. Way back in grad school, a big-L Libertarian contacted me after reading a few of my student newspaper columns, saying among other things that he thought I'd "make a good Libertarian."

I disagreed, and began arguing that the Libertarian movement would actually harm the cause of liberty. We emailed back and forth for quite some time.

(This was a surprise, as I'd expected a short correspondence, ended by him insulting me for bringing Ayn Rand into the conversation: That's basically what had always happened in my semi-captive audiences with my Libertarian ex-father-in-law...)

I finally reached the conclusion that (a) this guy was actually interested in what I was saying, although he did not always agree with it, and (b) he needed (and was ready) to see a better case than I was making because his questions and objections were intelligent. So I lent him my well-worn copy of Peter Schwartz's booklet, Libertarianism: The Perversion of Liberty.

A week or so passed, and I, probably a decade older than the Libertarian, began to think something like, This kid's ghosting me. Time to ask for my booklet back.

Within about another day, and before I'd done anything else, I heard back from him. He'd changed his mind! "Chalk one up for pamphleteering," his email began.

Some time later, at his suggestion I would join him in starting a campus Objectivist club, which did very well.

That is, in microcosm, how the kind of ideas we need to spread, to improve our culture happens: One mind at a time, and, crucially, with each new fellow traveler deciding on his own to join the cause in whatever capacity makes sense to him.

I've been re-reading Ayn Rand's Philosophy: Who Needs It lately, and this episode came to my mind as I read the essay "An Untitled Letter," where she commented on John Rawls's A Theory of Justice.

Within is her brief description of the funhouse mirror image of how good ideas spread: how bad works gain currency. It is instructive to consider the differences between the two processes:

A Portrait of Evil (Image by Unknown Artist, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.)
If you wonder how so grotesquely irrational a philosophy as [Immanuel] Kant's came to dominate Western culture, you are now witnessing an attempt to repeat that process. Mr. Rawls is a disciple of Kant -- philosophically and psycho-epistemologically. Kant originated the technique required to sell irrational notions to the men of a skeptical, cynical age who have formally rejected mysticism without grasping the rudiments of rationality. The technique is as follows: if you want to propagate an outrageously evil idea (based on traditionally accepted doctrines), your conclusion must be brazenly clear, but your proof unintelligible. Your proof must be so tangled a mess that it will paralyze a reader's critical faculty -- a mess of evasions, equivocations, obfuscations, circumlocutions, non sequiturs, endless sentences leading nowhere, irrelevant side issues, clauses, sub-clauses and sub-sub-clauses, a meticulously lengthy proving of the obvious, and big chunks of the arbitrary thrown in as self-evident, erudite references to sciences, to pseudo-sciences, to the never-to-be-sciences, to the untraceable and the unprovable -- all of it resting on a zero: the absence of definitions. I offer in evidence the Critique of Pure Reason.


Like any overt school of mysticism, a movement seeking to achieve a vicious goal has to invoke the higher mysteries of an incomprehensible authority. An unread and unreadable book serves this purpose. It does not count on men's intelligence, but on their weaknesses, pretensions and fears. It is not a tool of enlightenment, but of intellectual intimidation. It is not aimed at the reader's understanding, but at his inferiority complex.


Within a few years of the book's publication, commentators will begin to fill libraries with works analyzing, "clarifying" and interpreting its mysteries. Their notions will spread all over the academic map, ranging from the appeasers, who will try to soften the book's meaning -- to the glamorizers, who will ascribe to it nothing worse than their own pet inanities -- to the compromisers, who will try to reconcile its theory with its exact opposite -- to the avant-garde, who will spell out and demand the acceptance of its logical consequences. The contradictory, antithetical nature of such interpretations will be ascribed to the book's profundity -- particularly by those who function on the motto: "If I don't understand it, it's deep." The students will believe that the professors know the proof of the book's theory, the professors will believe that the commentators know it, the commentators will believe that the author knows it -- and the author will be alone to know that no proof exists and that none was offered.
When one considers the need to change the overall direction of a culture, this sounds intimidating. But omitted from the above are important elements of context, supplied in part by Rand's description of how more active-minded readers will react to such garbage (within that essay); as well as how intellectuals can influence a culture, and in this way, affect the course of history (elsewhere).

In short, merely looking at numbers is the wrong way to view cultural trends. The people who glom on to an impenetrable work they keep hearing is profound do not count in that regard. They can't or won't bother to grasp anything truly original.

They're the ones who skip editorials and run away from serious conversations of any kind. There are tons of them and, aside from perhaps being amenable to persuasion at a very superficial level, on a very specific issue, and for a very short time, they are not the best targets for meaningful, long-range attempts to persuade them of something that will challenge major philosophical premises most people in their society -- likely including themselves -- hold.

-- CAV

Four Nifty Finds

Friday, November 17, 2023

A Friday Hodgepodge

Happy Thanksgiving! Due to travel and family obligations, I'm taking all of next week off. See you on the 27th!


Image by Suzy Brooks, via Unsplash, license.
1. I remember using the Sumatra PDF reader on Windows some time back, but it was (or has since become) much more versatile than that, according to the blurb on its site:
PDF, eBook (epub, mobi), comic book (cbz/cbr), DjVu, XPS, CHM, image viewer for Windows. Fast, small, packed with features, customizable, free.
The bulk of my Windows usage is on machines other than my own, so I looked for (and found) a portable version that runs from a pen drive under PortableApps.

2. My usual method for consuming podcasts is to download them at home and transfer them to my phone using Synchthing. I do this primarily so I don't have connectivity issues on the road, but I have found the experience superior to using YouTube directly.

I get to skip ads, and while its easy to return to or reopen my local mp3 player and pick up where I left off, doing the same thing with YouTube is annoying at best. (If you have to close YouTube or it crashes, good luck finding what you were listening to. Wierdly, if you DO find the episode, it knows EXACTLY where you were WITHIN that episode. Nuts.)

YouTube is okay for those times I forget to download, or run out of material while out and about, but I recently found some Android alternatives to YouTube in this thread about one of them (NewPipe) at Hacker News. I like the fact that NewPipe allows downloading from URLs since that's the way I keep track of things I want to listen to (and possibly blog later), anyway.

3. By chance, I found an amazing cooking site for people who are blind or visually-impaired. The Blind Kitchen catalogs and sells an impressive array of cookware, too.

Although my vision is fine, some of these, like a rattling boil alert disk or the double spatula sound like great things to have in any kitchen. This is one site I will revisit when my wife asks me for Christmas gift ideas, or I need to come up with some of my own.

4. With our end-of-year move to New Orleans fast approaching, I was glad to learn that the Internet Archive now hosts a collection of product manuals.

I doubt I'll need one for a pet rock, but I might need this for appliance manuals on the other end of our move.

-- CAV

East Minus West Isn't Even Zero

Thursday, November 16, 2023

A story in the South China Morning Post that would be pilloried as an advertisement if it appeared in a reputable Western outlet title-gushes China Launches World's Fastest Internet With 1.2 Terabit Per Second Link, Years Ahead of Forecasts.

The first thing that came to my mind was:

So what? They censor it.
But I went ahead and read the "news" anyway and remembered a few other things about this story that would be fishy, even if the claims are 100% true.

Let's take a look at some of these:
The achievement -- a collaboration between Tsinghua University, China Mobile, Huawei Technologies, and Cernet Corporation -- smashes expert forecasts that 1 terabit per second ultra-high-speed networks would not emerge until around 2025.
Cool, if true, but this is only about a year early -- by whatever unclear or arbitrary standard they're using.
Most of the world's internet backbone networks operate at just 100 gigabits per second. Even the United States only recently completed the transition to its fifth-generation Internet2 at 400 gigabits per second.
There's lots of context missing here, but it's revealing that this "news" agency felt the need to compare this alleged "collaboration" with "the United States," as if this were a race between planned economies.

As woefully imperfect as the United States is at practicing capitalism, the fact that there isn't a truly comparable "backbone" here could mean anything from There isn't yet a need for one that would justify its cost to Regulation or other aspects of central planning have interfered with such a goal being accomplished.

Conversely, perhaps if either country were freer, something like this (or better) would have been built long ago, and without the government stiff-arming -- I mean "collaboration." (Companies collaborate all the time for profit without making a big deal out of it, so that aspect of the brag smells funny to me.)

This comparison means nothing in and of itself, but it only becomes more interesting to contemplate as we continue...
Huawei Technologies vice-president Wang Lei told the same press conference at Tsinghua University on Monday that the network was "capable of transferring the data equivalent of 150 high-definition films in just one second".
I think they might have added, as long as none of those films is about Winnie the Pooh to that last sentence. But even that would be too generous.

Moving along...
If they won't even allow this, what difference does it make how much their "backbone" can carry? (Image by the Guardian. The author believes his use of this exemplary image to be protected as Fair Use under U.S. Copyright law.)
The new backbone network marks another advance for China, which has been concerned about its reliance on the US and Japan for routers and other components of internet technology.

All of the system's software and hardware has been domestically produced, with the technical research team making advancements in everything from routers and switches to optical fibre connections. [bold added]
I'd be much more impressed by this claim absent China's tendency to steal Western intellectual property.

The whole thing reminds me of a book I heard about years ago titled East Minus West = Zero: Russia's Debt to the Western World, which outlined how dependent Russia was on the West for its economic development.

While China was never as backward as Russia, its failure to respect intellectual property and violations of individual freedom make a complete mockery of this milestone on many levels as it is.

But the fact that the information will be filtered means that whatever the government over there does with its new toy, it will be less useful to the individuals there than it could have been, even if we assume that (a) it is economically justified and (b) wouldn't have been built much sooner (and with actual Chinese innovation) in a free China.

East minus West isn't even zero.

-- CAV

Tribalism vs. Clarity

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Within an analysis of the last election, the following sentence caught my eye:

[T]he liberal positions won big in Ohio's two ballot measures to enshrine the right to an abortion and to legalize marijuana. [links omitted]
Liberal positions?

I support both of these, but I am not a "liberal" -- at least in today's twisted sense of the term that implies leftist.

Liberals might, however imperfectly, support reproductive rights and the freedom to ingest whatever one wants, but these are pro-liberty positions, and they contradict other "liberal" positions, such as decriminalizing petty theft or surgically mutilating children below the age of consent and without their own parents' consent.

Nevertheless, many people lump such disparate positions together, based loosely on which party campaigns on them at the moment, much to the detriment of their own understanding of politics and the advancement of any genuinely good positions they might hold, such as the "liberal" right to abortion or the "conservative" right for parents to raise their own children.

Two cases in point are evident from the very article under discussion, and they manifest in Democrats and Republicans seeing lessons for each other -- while getting the wrong message for themselves -- after each election.

Since this piece is by a leftist, we'll start with it. As I noted the day after the last elections:
When abortion becomes the major issue on the ballot, and there is a clear choice, being anti-abortion will lose any election not dominated by religious voters.
This article focuses on the educated, affluent voters found in suburbs and other similar areas. These voters are not particularly religious, but they also aren't particularly leftist, as attested by the fact that they delivered wins to Glenn Youngkin in the previous election cycle, and used to trend more Republican before Roe was overturned and Republicans were safe to preen about abortion (i.e., pander to religious voters) without having to face the consequences (i.e., voters suddenly having to worry about their daughters being forced to bring unwanted pregnancies to term).

The GOP is screwed with these voters unless it changes its position on abortion. The writer at Vox rightly sees this -- but then starts hallucinating as soon as the whole smorgasbord of other liberal positions comes to his mind:
School choice as bait for abortion restrictions? Reproductive freedom as bait for in-school grooming? Both parties are guilty of baiting and switching. (Image by Anne Nygård, via Unsplash, license.)
Abortion politics have played a huge role in this since 2022, but the shift in the suburbs and with more affluent college graduates predates the Dobbs decision ending the federal right to an abortion. In Virginia and Pennsylvania, politics around schools and education, gender identity, and crime all joined abortion as issues that voters kept top of mind. "In conjunction with abortion is the other layered-in kind of Republican social agenda that is just so repellent to the country," a Democratic campaigner in suburban Bucks County told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "Voters in the largest swing county in the most important swing state uniformly rejected that." [bold added]
Read the bold and ask yourself how the author -- who discusses Glenn Youngkin earlier in the same piece -- is now coupling woke nuttiness about "gender" and academic egalitarianism, with abortion. It was the woke nuttiness that got Youngkin into office on the backs of the same voters who just took him down a peg over abortion.

(For the sake of showing that my point is subtler than just "economic" vs. "law and order" vs. "social" issues: If I might take the liberty of speaking on behalf of such voters, I will note here that I support the right of consenting adults to marry, period, for which "gay marriage" might be shorthand. This is not the same thing as supporting the woke "gender" agenda in elementary school. I find religious opposition to "gay marriage" repugnant and I am repulsed by efforts to "educate" children about "gender" that amount to grooming them. I am an atheist, by the way.)

When Democrats manage to frame getting borderline pornography removed from school libraries as "book banning," they can sometimes smuggle in a victory for that kind of nonsense, but it's a losing issue for them in isolation (among voters who aren't overwhelmingly "blue"), just like abortion is for the GOP.

And speaking of woke nuttiness and Glenn Youngkin, he provides the corresponding example of the other political tribe overplaying its hand after a win.

Youngkin was elected because the bloc of voters under discussion were upset about unnecessary school closures during the pandemic and did not appreciate "gender" propaganda being directed at their young children or their children being kept in the dark about academic awards for woke/DEI (i.e., egalitarian reasons).

That was his mandate, so what did he try to glom onto that in the last election? An abortion limit:
Virginia Democrats' success will spell doom for Youngkin's proposed 15-week "limit" on abortion, which would ban the procedure after 15 weeks with exceptions for rape, incest and medical emergencies. Democratic legislators in Virginia have previously used their senate majority to block bills restricting abortion access and they had promised to do so again if they maintained control of the chamber.
As one of these voters, I have come to dread every election because the Democrats are happy to construe my support for, say, reproductive freedom, as also support for, say mutilating underage children -- and Republicans take my concerns about, say crime and government looting (i.e., property rights), as license to ram their religious strictures down my throat.

Partisans on both sides seem oblivious to the idea of personal liberty, and quite eager to read overarching mandates for their own particular takes on tyranny into any vote I make. Anyone accusing this bloc of voters of moving into either party is delusional or attempting to be manipulative. Conformative fealty to a laundry list isn't clear thinking, if it's thinking at all.

-- CAV

Two Thinkers on Hirsi Ali's Capitulation

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

In which a light going out signifies a wake-up call.

I am glad to see that I was hardly the only one disappointed to learn that Ayaan Hirsi Ali -- who had traveled so far intellectually from her religious upbringing -- has chosen to profess religion.

Yaron Brook does an outstanding job in his podcast (also embedded below) considering and addressing the points she made in her essay to that effect.

The strength of Brook's presentation is that it is even-handed. He shows due respect for Hirsi Ali's past strength of character, intellect, and accomplishments. Doing so sets the context necessary to show several things about this move, including: why it is surprising, why it is nevertheless understandable on a couple of levels, and why it is so disappointing.

If I recall correctly, Brook said at one point, A light has gone out.

That is absolutely true.

I have only begun reading Watkins's analysis, but Brook mentioned it towards the end of his, and per Brook, and my reading so far, he argues in a similar vein.

His opening is strong, and is a call to arms to those of us who see the issue at stake for the West better than those who are mistakenly or otherwise relying on Christianity to bolster her during these challenging times:
... Ayaan's account has nothing to say about why she thinks Christianity is true. There are no arguments offered for the existence of God and no arguments offered for the reliability of the New Testament.

But there is an argument. Not for the conclusion that Christianity is true, but for the conclusion that Christianity is necessary. It is necessary, Ayaan believes, to uphold the value of western civilization and it is necessary for the individual seeking meaning and purpose.

This is not a new argument. Christians have been making it forever, but it was Jordan Peterson who most effectively injected it into the current debate. Peterson used it to win over Dave Rubin. Now, with Ayaan, he's claimed another scalp.

All of this was avoidable. Peterson's argument is a bad argument. But no atheist has stepped up to convincingly answer it because there is no moral leadership among today's secular thinkers. Instead of offering the world an inspiring rational moral ideal, atheists have evaded the issue, or, worse, embraced a secular form of Christian ethics.

We can do better. [bold in original]
Fellow travelers will know where this is going, in the sense that we know of a rational alternative to the faith, renunciation, and sacrifice that Christianity upholds over reason, love of life, and the rational pursuit of values.

But both go further: It is up to those of us who do know better to find a way to get that knowledge out there more effectively.

Brook quite thoroughly demolishes Hirsi Ali's worse-than-baseless assertion that Christianity alone can uphold dignity and rights. Whether Hirsi Ali's profession of faith is sincere on some level or driven by panic does not matter: Joining forces with the same people who brought us the Dark Ages (and were only dragged into the Renaissance and Enlightenment kicking and screaming) will prove the final nail in the coffin for the West, and not its salvation.

Watkins is right that we can do better, but after listening to Brook, it becomes clear that we must do better.

Fortunately, we know what the Christians can only profess to take on faith: the truth is on our side. In a war that has us outnumbered and off the initiative, we do at least have the most important advantage.

-- CAV